Metro Vancouver, in the past, has been posed with the challenge of planning for rapid growth and has made planning decisions that have been paying dividends to this day. Given future leaps in economic expansion and an increasing population, the region will need to continue making smart bets on long-term transportation investments in order to stay competitive and maintain high standards of living.
Remember Metro Vancouver in 1986? The World Exposition on Transportation and Communication, “Expo 86”, was held in Vancouver and the first leg of the Skytrain, from Waterfront to New Westminster, was put into service. In the 27 years since that time, the region’s population has drastically increased with the addition of nearly one million new residents.
In less than three decades the region has felt seismic social, economic, and environmental shifts and has rapidly developed. Metro Vancouver’s preferred urban form – compact, transit-oriented development, and mixed land use – came into being and created one of the most livable regions in the world. In a 20 year period, the Expo Line was expanded, the Millennium and Canada Lines were built, and the construction of an Evergreen Line began; bus service grew and transit ridership peaked with the 2010 Winter Olympics. Similarly, the province’s economy has pivoted towards Asia and Port Metro Vancouver has solidified its position as one of the most important shipping hubs in North America; Port Metro Vancouver is Canada’s busiest port and the fifth largest in North America by container traffic. Municipalities in the lower mainland have recognized that the economic livelihood and well-being of residents is dependent upon efficient transportation systems and land use.
The next 27 years will yield change of a similar magnitude: Metro Vancouver’s population will again grow by one million people. By 2041 the number of people in the region will climb from 2.3 to 3.4 million and there will be an additional 600,000 jobs throughout Metro Vancouver. Surrey alone is growing by nearly 10,000 people per year and will double its number of jobs by 2041. The City of Vancouver will grow by 139,000 people between now and 2041 – that’s the equivalent of the entire population of Coquitlam and Port Moody packing up and moving in. While the Tri-cities and Burnaby are among the fastest growing regions in Metro Vancouver (nearly doubling in size over the next three decades), every municipality’s population will grow by at least 25%. But how will those million+ people be accommodated? What about the new engines of Vancouver’s economy, those of the creative class and the technical, medical, IT, and consulting workers whose productivity is magnified through proximity? Where will they live and how will they be brought together?
In less than six years it is anticipated that global demand for minerals, of which ports in the Pacific Gateway are a major shipper, will more than double. With some roads near peak capacity, and given that significant new roadway expansion is neither economically feasible nor likely, traffic congestion is creating a drag on the economy. How will goods, services, and people efficiently move to, from, and around the region?
Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) balances land use and coordinates transportation planning in the region and has been adopted by every municipality in Metro Vancouver. Given that Metro Vancouver is constrained by geographic boundaries including mountains, ocean, and an agricultural reserve, governments face the challenge of channeling growth into existing land without infringing upon existing agricultural and industrial areas. The RGS has explicit policy directions that include creating compact urban areas, supporting sustainable economies, protecting the environment, developing complete communities, and supporting sustainable transportation choices. This means directing growth to urban centres and areas serviced by frequent transit. These regional city centres will receive 40% of population growth and 50% of new jobs by 2041; they’ll help drive the economy and will see substantial residential development.
Part of the strategy also includes shifting transportation modes to economically efficient and sustainable options like walking, cycling, and transit; 27% of all trips in Metro Vancouver are made by these modes and the goal is to reach 50% by 2040.
Although 2040 is a long way off, given the region’s current trajectory, it’s apparent that this target won’t be reached without a rapid shift in behaviour. Use of current road networks will need to be maximized, and significant transportation improvements will need to be made in order to adapt to rapid population and economic growth. Municipalities will need more transportation options in order to facilitate a modal shift and to allow transit-oriented housing to develop. Given fiscal realities and our region’s constrained geography, mass transit represents the best bang for the buck and the most environmentally sustainable option for getting many people around efficiently.